Squirms of Endearment
By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 21, 2000
There's something about Mike White's face soft, unformed and lightly freckled,
with eely lips that squirm like a worm on a hook, and affectless, staring
eyes whose nearly invisible, strawberry-blond lashes give him him a vaguely
alien look that's hard to turn away from. And yet you will want to.
Mike White, Chris Weitz in "Chuck & Buck."
White plays one half the title duo of "Chuck & Buck," a provocative and
uncomfortable comedy (and I use the word very loosely) from director Miguel
("Star Maps") Arteta about a 27-year-old man with the personality of an
11-year-old. White, who also wrote the disturbing and funny (in a slowly
insinuating way) script, plays Buck O'Brien, a lollipop-sucking man-child who
still lives with his mom in northern California and sleeps with a vaporizer
in a room filled with toys. After his mother dies suddenly, Buck writes to
his childhood friend Chuck Sitter (Chris Weitz), inviting him back home for
When the slick and worldly Chuck now known as Charlie and living with his
fiancee Carlyn (Beth Colt) in Los Angeles, where he works in the recording
industry shows up, only an inkling of Buck's attachment to his old school
chum can be felt, although it's obvious that there's a physical component, at
least on Buck's part. Acting on a casual, but probably sincere, invitation
from Carlyn to come out to L.A. and visit sometime, Buck drops everything,
takes his inheritance, vaporizer and a carload of plastic gewgaws and follows
Charlie south. Once there, however, the full, queasy nature of Buck's
fixation manifests itself. His single-minded pursuit of his onetime playmate
becomes more sinister as he makes himself more and more of a nuisance, renting a theater across the
street from his love object's office to stage an allegorical play he's
written called "Hank & Frank."
Why no one ever calls the police on Buck is the real stumper here, but it's
a testament to White's carefully shaded portrayal, which skirts stalker
cliches and grown-up-kid-in-a-man's-body caricatures. What is he?
Part geek, part loser, part dweeb. Is he retarded, autistic, crazy,
painfully shy? I found myself looking for new classifications to describe
this awkward monster although the word "inappropriate" kept coming to mind in
everything he did.
Although he'll probably give many viewers the heebie-jeebies, everyone he
comes into contact "with on screen takes him at face value, which gently
leads us to do the same. Beverly the theater manager (the wonderful Lupe
Ontiveros) treats him like sweet, damaged goods and Sam (Paul Weitz), the
talentless and swaggering actor Buck casts in his play, befriends him in a
way that is almost tender, despite the bizarrely mismatched components.
Special note should be made of the well-chosen music in "Chuck & Buck,"
composed and supervised by Joey Waronker, Tony Maxwell and Smokey Hormel and
including in a brilliant touch the Modern Lovers' 1976 ode to obsessive
yearning, "Astral Plane."
"Chuck & Buck" is no tale of unrequited love exactly, although it has some
of that in its genetic code. On one level, it's a dark fable of personal
growth (minus the formulaic, third-act resolution) but it's also a clash of
wills between two stubborn people, the stronger of whom may ultimately
CHUCK & BUCK (R, 97 minutes) Contains obscenity, sexual liaisons and an accident involving fireworks.